Teachers have a “good shout” of being near the top of the coronavirus vaccine list once the most clinically vulnerable have received their jabs, the Health Secretary has said.
Speaking on Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday, Matt Hancock said it was important to break the chains of transmission, but that those at highest risk of death must be protected first.
Covid rates among teaching staff have been up to four times higher than the local average in some areas of England, it emerged in early January.
Figures obtained by the teaching union NASUWT for three local authority areas found coronavirus infection rates among teachers outstripped those of the locality.
Mr Hancock added that the supply of the vaccine also remained a “challenge”.
He said: “It’s not a matter of logistics, the logistics can be organised. The challenge is the supply of vaccine, supply is the rate-limiting factor.”
He added that the question of who should receive the first dose had been assessed based on clinical need.
“Of course we want to break the chains of transmission but we’ve also got to stop people dying from the disease if they catch it,” he said.
Mr Hancock continued: ”We’re going through those who are clinically vulnerable…and after that there’s a perfectly reasonable debate to be had about who should go in what order next.
“Teachers have got a good shout to be very high on the list and those discussions are going on.”
The news follows reports of proposals for mass vaccination programmes for educational staff over the February half-term period.
According to The Mail on Sunday, headteachers have drawn up a “detailed blueprint” which to get teachers and support staff inoculated over the February half-term week at no cost to Government, in a bid to get pupils back to school within weeks.
Elsewhere, The Sunday Times reported that Education Secretary Gavin Williamson would rule out a possible return to the classroom after the February half-term break and would instead prepare parents for an extended period of home-schooling that could last until after mid-April or even May.
“May is a very long way away and if it was left to the NHS and the scientists they are in favour of pushing back the return date for schools for as long as possible. One thing is for sure — we will not risk coming out of this lockdown if there is any risk that we will be plunged into another,” said a Downing Street source, according to the paper.
‘We have got to look at the data’
As recently as Thursday, Mr Williamson said that he hoped schools would be able to reopen before Easter, although Downing Street declined to endorse his comments.
Mr Hancock stressed that while he hoped schools in England could reopen by Easter, it would depend on the levels of infection in the community at that time.
“We have got to look at the data, we have got to look at the impact of the vaccination programme,” he said.
“The Education Secretary [Gavin Williamson] has said that we will ensure schools get two weeks’ notice of return. I don’t know whether it will be then or before then. We have got to watch the data.”